Montgomery County health officials on Monday urged more people to get their COVID-19 vaccinations and said the county would be following the guidance of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over that of the Maryland Department of Health.
Dr. Raymond Crowel, director of the county’s Department of Health and Human Services, said the test positivity rate in the county is setting at “a low of 2.2%” and that the county’s COVID-19 numbers “are overall, going in the right direction.”
Crowel said 84% of those 65 and older have been fully vaccinated in Montgomery County, and 67% of county residents have gotten “at least one dose” of the vaccine.
That’s good news, Crowel said. But he added that the 67% figure represents “the halfway point in the marathon,” not the number of people who’ve been fully vaccinated.
Crowel remains concerned that people are becoming “more comfortable than they should” and deciding to skip getting vaccinated or maintaining COVID-19 protocols.
“I want to ask people to continue to periodically get themselves tested” for the coronavirus and to “maintain some caution,” he said.
Crowel also said “direct scheduling” will now be standard at the Germantown mass vaccination site.
“You’ll find direct access to a time and date at the mass vaccination site,” he said.
There will also be walk-ins at the end of the day.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, Crowel said, will assist in providing mobile clinics, starting at the Civic Center in Silver Spring.
The clinic will hold evening hours on Thursdays and Fridays from 4 to 8 p.m.; on Saturday and Sunday, there will be afternoon hours. Each day, the last hour at the FEMA site will be open for walk-up appointments.
“Hopefully folks will take advantage of that,” said Crowell, hoping the convenience would eliminate pockets of “vaccine hesitancy.”
To mask or not to mask?
Dr. Earl Stoddard, director of the Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said county officials have gotten “a bunch of questions” about where the county’s mask mandate stands.
Last week, Gov. Larry Hogan repealed the universal outdoor mask mandate, except in cases where large crowds could gather at ticketed events such as concerts.
But Montgomery County has opted to stick with its latest health order, with a slightly stricter protocol.
Stoddard explained the difference by offering several examples: “If you’re unvaccinated, in an outdoor dining setting or in a small but mixed gathering, you should be wearing a mask.”
The county’s regulations say Montgomery County would follow CDC guidelines or those set out by the Maryland Department of Health, whichever are stricter, Stoddard said. When Hogan announced his repeal of the universal outdoor mask mandate, he said counties could keep more restrictive regulations, but added, “I wouldn’t advise it.”
Under Montgomery County’s rules, at large outdoor events where there could be some people who’ve been fully vaccinated and others who have not been vaccinated, Stoddard said, “both vaccinated and unvaccinated people, per the CDC guidelines, are expected to wear masks.”
Stoddard pointed to a graphic on the CDC website showing their guidelines on wearing masks, which the county is following.
A migration at the U.S. border is almost certain to boost the number of unaccompanied minors coming into Montgomery County from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, said Council Vice President Gabe Albornoz.
Albornoz — who got a briefing from the Health and Human Services, Montgomery County school officials and members of groups working with unaccompanied minors — said 104 minors have already been placed with sponsors in the county.
The children, many of whom are from indigenous groups in their home countries, are the focus of what Albornoz said was “an interagency effort to create a strong system of care.”
According to Albornoz, the region comprising the District, Maryland and Virginia “is among the top 10 receiving areas in the entire country, because of the large percentage of Central Americans that reside and work and contribute to our community in so many different ways.”
The number of unaccompanied minors coming into the region is expected to grow, said Albornoz.
“We heard from officials on Wednesday that we expect as many as 3,000 children and youth to be released into the care of sponsors here in the DMV.”
Albornoz said there are special challenges in providing minors with the care they need.
“In particular, the children and youth coming from Guatemala come from an indigenous background, [and there are] more than 30 dialects of indigenous languages spoken among the children and youth coming to the United States.”
There are already efforts, he said, to make certain translation services available in those cases.